Biden Hits the Right Note
Plus #MeToo at MIT.
In the aftermath of tragedy and terror in Buffalo, here’s something that has not received much attention: a genuinely presidential speech by Joe Biden on his visit to the city.
I know Biden is not a charismatic leader. But on occasions that call for a simple show of humanity, decency and warmth, he can be genuinely moving. And so he was in Buffalo. He spoke simply and beautifully about the victims and their families (and spoke beautifully to their families). And the larger message he delivered was exactly the right one.
Jill and I bring this message from deep in our nation’s soul: In America, evil will not win — I promise you. Hate will not prevail. And white supremacy will not have the last word.
For the evil did come to Buffalo, and it’s come to all too many places, manifested in gunmen who massacred innocent people in the name of hateful and perverse ideology rooted in fear and racism. ….
A hate that through the media and politics, the Internet, has radicalized angry, alienated, lost, and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced — that’s the word, “replaced” — by the “other” — by people who don’t look like them and who are therefore, in a perverse ideology that they possess and being fed, lesser beings.
I and all of you reject the lie. I call on all Americans to reject the lie. …
White supremacy is a poison. It’s a poison … running through our body politic. And it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes.
No more. I mean, no more. We need to say as clearly and forcefully as we can that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. None.
And, look, failure for us to not say that — failure in saying that is going to be complicity. Silence is complicity. It’s complicity. We cannot remain silent.
Our nation’s strength has always come from the idea — it’s going to sound corny, but think about it: What’s the idea of our nation? That we’re all children of God. … Life, liberty, our universal goods — gifts of God. We didn’t get it from the government, we got it from — because we exist, and we’re called upon to defend them.
Look, the American experiment in democracy is in a danger like it hasn’t been in my lifetime. It’s in danger this hour. Hate and fear are being given too much oxygen by those who pretend to love America but who don’t understand America.
To confront the ideology of hate requires caring about all people, not making distinctions.
Reverend, the Scripture is seeing that we’re all part of the Divine. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” That’s the America I know, that Jill knows. … We are the most multiracial, most dynamic nation in the history of the world.
Now is the time for the people of all races, from every background, to speak up as a majority in America and reject white supremacy.
These actions we’ve seen in these hate-filled attacks represent the views of a hate-filled minority. We can’t allow them to distort America — the real America. We can’t allow them to destroy the soul of the nation.
It’s a deeply anti-racist speech. But note that in terms of our recent “history wars,” it is actually fairly (yes) conservative. The President’s message is that the real America is the America of “we’re all children of God,” of liberty and justice for all, of universal rights and dynamic, multiracial democracy. White supremacy is a poison and lie. It can destroy the soul of the nation, but it is not the soul of the nation. It’s something real Americans can, must, and do reject.
To put it in culture-war terms: this speech was not “woke.” Its anti-racism is the spirit of “caring for all people” and “not making distinctions,” not of obsessing over identity. It was also not partisan. There was no hint of “if you want to defeat hate, vote for the Democrats in November.”
One can quibble with this or that line, to be sure. One can certainly question other things Biden has said on other occasions. But this speech, overall, was exactly what the moment called for.
And I’m disappointed that more “anti-woke liberals” have not given credit where it’s due.
For instance, in an article in Unherd on Buffalo and racism in America, culture critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali—who has said some controversial things but can also be genuinely insightful—offers some strong criticisms of the progressive approach to racial problems, including the Black Lives Matter movement. But she concludes with this:
[F]aced with an election year and an uphill battle to retain the House and Senate this November, perhaps it is unsurprising that so many Democrats are keen to turn the Buffalo shooting into another George Floyd moment: an excuse to deflect difficult questions, and to turn politics into a binary realm of Good and Evil. Once again, we’re told, either you’re with us or you’re a racist — even if being on the side of Good means exploiting the misery of others.
It's too bad she couldn’t acknowledge that the Democrat in the White House gave a speech about the Buffalo shooting that affirmed unity and the American spirit.
#MeToo at MIT
Speaking of the anti-woke: Bari Weiss’s newsletter, Common Sense, has a long piece (authored by her sister, Suzy Weiss) on the downfall of molecular biologist David Sabatini, a once-world-renowned scientist unpersoned over a finding of sexual misconduct that focused primarily on a sexual relationship with a fellow scientist at MIT.
Sabatini was stripped of tenure at MIT, fired by the Whitehead Institute where he ran a research lab with nearly 40 staffers and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and dropped from fellowships and professional societies. Even biotech startups he had helped found severed their relationship. A recent tentative move to consider him for a position at NYU’s Langone Health resulted in a strong social media backlash and walkouts and protests at the school, and the school announced that Sabatini was no longer in the running for the position. (Sabatini is currently suing MIT and his accuser, MIT assistant professor Kristin Knouse.)
The piece, which portrayed Sabatini as the victim of a witch-hunt over a consensual relationship that the woman came to regret, drew a sympathetic reaction even from some people on the left who are no fans of Weiss, such as Intercept DC bureau chief Ryan Grim.
(The reactions to Grim were mostly scathing and often along the lines of, “How dare you tweet an article from THAT person’s Substack.”)
Then, someone posted Knouse’s counterclaim to Sabatini's lawsuit as evidence that the Weiss article was ridiculously one-sided and dishonest, omitting key details—such as the fact that Knouse had accused Sabatini of coercing her into sex and of running a lab in which women were routinely treated as sex objects. A number of people suggested that the article presented a false narrative based entirely on Sabatini’s own account.
So which is it? Was a brilliant cancer researcher unfairly maligned and victimized, or did the Weiss sisters rush to the defense of an entitled, egotistical sex pest?
Having read the article and the counterclaim, I think it is likely that the Weiss article is closer to the truth (and documents a deeply disturbing incident from the annals of #MeToo overreach). But I also think that Suzy Weiss left out some things that should have been mentioned—notably the fact that while Sabatini did not supervise Knouse or have authority over her at the time of the relationship, he had been her thesis supervisor and was in a position to influence her career as a mentor. And yes, there should have been a mention of the sexual assault allegation.
While Knouse declined to be interviewed for the Weiss article, the article is not based solely on Sabatini’s account but also on “interviews with … more than a dozen colleagues of both Sabatini and Knouse, legal filings, text messages, emails” and other documents. The text messages from Knouse to Sabatini cited in the article, at least, strongly contradict Knouse’s claim that she did not want a sexual or romantic relationship with Sabatini and merely submitted to his demands. (The counterclaim states, presumably to explain such evidence, that Knouse “tried to embrace the relationship, play along, even convince herself that it was meaningful and mutual.” Make of that what you will.) And some of the messages Knouse cites in the counterclaim are snippets that give little indication of their context.
The counterclaim paints a grotesque picture of the atmosphere in Sabatini’s lab, particularly for women but also for men who did not want to actively participate in a frat-boy environment. Again, it’s difficult to assess the truth or the context of specific incidents described by Knouse. (Women can, believe it or not, willingly participate in and even initiate sexualized banter in the workplace.) There is also innuendo that Sabatini tried to pursue a sexual relationship with a female undergraduate. None of that, however, seems to be corroborated; it is worth nothing that only two former Sabatini lab members lodged complaints after MIT began its investigation based on Knouse’s claim of harassment, and many have spoken in his defense. It is also worth noting that the report prepared by lawyers for the Whitehead Institute, which concluded that Sabatini had created an inappropriately sexualized workplace environment via his relationship with Knouse and some other instances of “unprofessional” conduct, also stated:
While we have not found any evidence that Sabatini discriminates against or fails to support females in his lab, we find that Sabatini’s propensity to praise or gravitate toward those in the lab that mirror his desired personality traits, scientific success, or view of ‘science above all else,’ creates additional obstacles for female lab members.
That seems a far cry from the sexist “animal house” atmosphere described in Knouse’s counterclaim. It is also rather weak stuff, at least if we’re talking about a career-ending judgment.
So what are the facts? Hopefully, we’ll find out when Sabatini’s lawsuit gets to court. As for the Weiss story, it should have done a more thorough job of covering the other side of the story. But the side it does report definitely deserves to be heard.
Joe Biden has been so unfairly maligned from all sides that it brings tears to my eyes to read a tribute to him. Thank you, Cathy, for both communicating and modeling grace and kindness.
Biden doing what Biden does best. We need more Bidens in politics. :)